Representing Scotland at a tech conference in Las Vegas sounds like a dream ticket, if you like the place. Personally, give me Fife's East Neuk anytime.
Also, not so great if the panoramic view from your 49th-floor hotel window is a faux gold-coloured Trump Tower, adjacent to an empty golf course on which hardly anyone can afford to play. You would never think anything could appear out of place in a gambling resort that boasts its very own Eiffel Tower and Egyptian sphinx. Trump does though.
It's always an idea to take a good book with you to such an event. Even as a curiously-minded scribe, there's only so many 'ground-breaking' keynotes, break-out sessions and guru 1-to-1s one can handle. I chose Orwell's 1984
for a bit of light reading. And it got me thinking. Turn to page 74 and the classic contains an exhaustive account of how Big Brother keeps the proletariat in place with doublethink and the application of a few simple rules to follow. Sound familiar in today's Stateside crazy and highly devisive political merry-go-round?
So, as the defeated POTUS finally leaves office, as he surely will, screaming, kicking and blubbering, I think I've sussed what comes next. He'll reproduce the Oval Office setting in his tower down the road from the real one. From there, he'll spout to the masses of his followers, a constantly droning on 'Trumpcast', as he plots his course for 2024. To have the last word. As Orwell puts it: 'To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours'. For Thought Police, read social media. Still, it's good to know that Trump has read one book in his life – or more likely had it read to him, the relevant passages anyway. Er, maybe the odd sentence pushed under his nose?
I rapidly discovered what grouping I belonged to: in a spare moment, I decided to enter the said dingy tower for a look. Bad move. A reception area security guard immediately put hand to holster and not only stared at and through me, but also shadowed me until I saw sense and left. It's the first time this peely-wally Scots 'prole' was relieved to step back into the high-90s sand-in-your-eye stifling hot desert breeze. For a breath of fresh air.
I am as concerned as Robert Cairns
about the discrimination experienced by LGBT people in Tanzania but it is worth pointing out that the law which criminalises homosexuality there is a product of UK colonialism rather than Julius Nyerere's government. It's also worth pointing out that life expectancy rose, infant mortality rates fell, countless schools were opened and free healthcare became available to all while Nyerere was President of Tanzania.
My proposal to rename Dundas Street was based not on a wish to glorify any individual politician but to remove the stain of association with slavery from one of Edinburgh's most important streets. Perhaps the good folk of Edinburgh might be interested in a precedent set in Montreal. General Amherst was associated with attempts to carry out genocide of Canada's indigenous people in the 18th century and there was a groundswell of opinion to redesignate a street that bore his name. A committee of indigenous people was set up and suggested to the local council that the street should be renamed Atataken Street as Atataken is a word in an indigenous language for brotherhood and sharing of values. It was offered and accepted as a token of the desire for reconciliation.
To retain the name Dundas Street suggests an endorsement of the slave trade and surely everyone is agreed that that is not acceptable. Some expression of a desire for reconciliation is necessary.
So why is it we in Scotland celebrate St Andrew, our national or patron saint's day, on 30 November? England celebrate St George on 23 April and our Celtic cousins in Wales and Ireland, celebrate respectively, St David on 1 March and St Patrick on 17 March. We chose the cusp of midwinter in all its bleakness, searing cold and long winter nights. With the occasional – and by that I mean almost certain – frozen, driving rain breaking up the monotony of the bone-chilling cold.
Traditionally, around this time of year in Scotland, our day is split into two distinct elements or phases: dark and preparing for dark. The rest of the countries that make up the British Isles, on the other hand, choose a time of renewal, of rebirth, of hope and optimism for what is just around the corner. Looking forward to warm days in the sun.
In time-honoured fashion, I turned to the internet for my research and found that according to a presumably well-researched and no doubt fully peer-reviewed, oracle piece, the reason we chose this date... well, to be honest, there is no significant reason at all. Turns out a bunch of expats in the US took it upon themselves to establish a day to celebrate Scotland and its patron, naturally opting for the last day of November. The self-same websites, however, also stated that St Andrew's Day was a national holiday throughout Scotland and that great celebrations are held to mark the occasion. Notwithstanding this year and its unique situation, past celebrations in this vein appear to have passed me by.
Additionally, this year we have the added worry of Christmas with fear replacing cheer at many a festive table, as we open up for the virus, sorry I mean holiday. We can visit relatives and family but just need to beware that meeting up is also potentially the surest way of endangering our elderly or vulnerable relatives. I just really hope the cracker jokes are of high calibre this year as we really need them.
It is not all bad of course, Scotland is a place of change which is apparent everywhere you care to look. The national psyche is evolving and developing in an increasingly positive way with improvements being seen in many aspects of civic society. That said change is good and all that, but there is no way my wife is getting me to throw out my cast iron model of Thunderbird 2, containing Thunderbird 4 within its removable pod, no matter how much it does not go with the newly acquired mid-century sideboard. There is a line.
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